SPRAWL'S SCRAWL - AION, THE TOWER OF ETERNITY BY SPRAWL
24/07/2009 07:33:53 AM

Sprawl hasn't been Scrawling as much recently because he hasn't been playing as much World of Warcraft as he used to. Don't get me wrong, I still love World of Warcraft, but alas, I'm struggling with sitting on the computer for four hours straight, multiple nights per week. This however gives me the perfect opportunity to experiment with Aion's Closed Beta weekend!

This was my first time in the world of Atreia, so I wasn't completely certain what to expect. I have heard it said that this is "just another Korean MMO", so my hopes weren't very high when I received my beta invite in the mail. If it weren't for the fact that a well-known gaming company was publishing this game, NCSoft, I probably wouldn't have even tried it.

I have to admit, I'm not sure what makes a Korean MMO different than its North American counterparts, but having played a few of them, I can say I can recognize the eastern style when I see it. There is that ever-familiar Sci-fi meets Fantasy world, which has a very Final Fantasy feel to it. For those unfamiliar with this Techno-fantasy genre, picture a futuristic world with gunboats and airships, but everyone walks around with bladed weapons and martial arts prowess. Aion is no different.

The 5 GB download, and the subsequent 300 MBs of patches, took a while to install. There was not a special introduction movie bundled with the game either, so it was pretty obvious based on the sheer size alone that the graphics in this game were going to be intense.

Character Creation

At first character creation seemed limited. You are presented with a choice between one of the two realms: Elyos or Asmodian. Lore-wise, there is no good or evil, but just like in World of Warcraft, the Asmodians, like the Horde, take on the darker side of things. Once you determine which faction, you have your choice of class: Warrior, Scout, Mage, or Priest. Additionally, of course, you get to choose your gender. There are no differences between realms, except for a faction specific "super move", which probably won't play a big role in the large scheme of things.

Once you have picked all of the important stuff, you can easily spend fifteen minutes on the small character visual tweaks available. From the people who brought you City of Heroes (CoH) and the plethora of character creation options, NCSoft doesn't disappoint with the number of forehead and chin choices available in Aion. It isn't quite up to CoH level, perhaps not even close, but I was overwhelmed enough to find myself just hitting the randomize button until I was happy.

As expected, I settled on an Asmodian Scout in the hopes it would play somewhat like the WoW Rogue class. Avid readers of Sprawl's Scrawl know that I'm a Rogue at heart; however, had I known that Asmodians all have backhair akin to a horse's tail growing out of your neck, I would have gone with Elyos…

All in all, it seems like there aren't really a lot of options that would impact how your character plays, at least that is how it seemed until I hit level 10. At this point, there was a quest-line that results in further class specializations. My Scout had the option of becoming a Ranger or Assassin. Needless to say, I chose the Assassin. The Aion Assassin has a stealth-like move that allows you to move around unseen for approximately 30 seconds. Due to the short duration, you have to be a little more careful in your approach because the pesky move always seems to wear off at the most inopportune of times.

User Interface

The game starts with your character waking up after having passed out on the road. There isn't much of an explanation as to what happened, or perhaps that part hasn't been translated yet, but you waste no time getting your hands dirty with quests. In Aion, the questgivers all have blue arrows over their heads, which should guide you in the right direction. So far there aren't any special starter quests that teach you how to play, but if you are familiar with current MMO user interfaces, this one is no different. After all, it would be foolish to reinvent the wheel. How successful would a new first-person shooter be if they changed the default keys from WASD? An MMO is no different. That being said, the UI plays just like World of Warcraft with a few additional keys added to control your character while flying through the air.

Flying is a big draw for this game, but it really feels no different than a fast-paced underwater battle in WoW or flying combat in City of Heroes. There is a flying bar, which gives you approximately one minute until you are forced to land, or fall to your death. While flying, you have the ability to glide, which lets you descend at a faster rate than just plain flying. As such, you do this rise and fall type combo for the fastest traveling speeds.

Performance

The graphics in Aion are breathtaking even for my mediocre 8800GT. I was able to play at a full 1920x1200 with all of the graphical enhancements set to maximum at approximately 60 fps. Performance would drop down while visiting the capitol cities, but that was somewhat expected given the density of players. NCSoft has implemented a nice video option that lets you downgrade player character detail in highly populated areas. Due to this awesome feature, I was getting approximately 40 fps in the main city, which is a large jump over the usual 15 fps I get in Dalaran.

Internet latency was pretty bad this closed beta weekend, but as fans will often tout, it is closed beta after all. I had a lot of "rubberbanding", especially in densely populated areas, which can be very frustrating. The worst is when you are fleeing some enemy that is pounding your backside, and all of the sudden you go sliding back towards him like the King of Pop himself. There were also huge bursts of combat lag, where nothing would happen in battle except for a fierce staredown, and then all of the sudden, a serious boatload of damage is unleashed on both sides.

PvE Gameplay

Quests in this game are of the standard fare. You have your kill X, gather X, and Fed-Ex quests. Aion was translated from Korean, so it is pretty impressive that many of the quests read well. Often times you get multiple pages of dialogue, which for some people is going to make questing impossible. In WoW, we are used to the one line summary of the quest that basically tells you what to do. In Aion, you need to read through multiple paragraphs or even pages to decipher what it is they are asking you to accomplish. Now this might sound like a pain in the butt, but alas, all the key terms within the quest description are highlighted. Additionally, you can click on these terms for more information, which marks the location on the map. I found the quests to be a lot more interesting when I took the time to read the story.

Once I found the map location feature, quests became a lot easier to manage. Also, for those of you that like to breeze through quests, there is a short summary after the quest is accepted. My only complaint is that you can't go back and read the long dialogue after the quest is in your log. So there were plenty of times I was trying to remember the purpose of the quest based on one line of text.

I had plenty of quests to level up to 12 but by then I only had a few quests left in my log. I asked around and the general rule of thumb most people seemed to follow was to grind while questing. For example, if you are asked to kill 10 wolves, you should kill all the bears and other creatures that you encounter along the way. I spent an entire level killing flying bugs in a shallow lake, which was actually a bit fun because I found a bunch of green rarity items to replenish my gold stock. However, I don't wish to be grinding full levels too often.

Traveling in Aion is a combination of managing predetermined flight paths and teleportation. So far, there are four main leveling maps in Aion per faction, which are very loosely connected together. Traveling within a given map is done through flight points between the major quest hubs. Travelling between maps, and the capitol city, which is just another map, is done through teleportation. You can wander off the edge of a map to an adjacent map, but typically this is not how it is done, even the first time around. Teleporting to the next zone seemed par for the course in this beta at least. It is theorized that as the game develops traveling will be done by airship rather than the quick but non-immersive teleportation.

Combat

This is one of those areas I've always felt the Korean MMOs shine. The grinding experience, aka the combat, in these games is generally very fast paced and fun. I don't know what it is, perhaps the exaggerated animations or the bright colors and sound, but when I punch a creature in the face, I want to know it!

Everything else is as you would expect. You have a few action bars at the bottom of your screen that you populate with your moves. Each class is a bit different, but all classes have combos, which amounts to certain moves that can only be activated after or in conjunction with another move. For example, the Assassin has an overhand strike and a backhand slash that can be chained together for increased damage.

The Assassin class also has a mechanic that would be described in WoW as combo points. In Aion, the Assassin engraves runes on the enemy, perhaps on their forehead, and then perfor

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